NFL Playoffs 2014: Biggest Questions Heading into Sunday's Divisional Round Play

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2014

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 24:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on November 24, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Plenty of questions linger ahead of Sunday's divisional-round action in the NFL playoffs.

Considering how unpredictable this season has been, who knows how everything will unfold? So far, the postseason has generally played to expectations, so sooner or later, there will be surprises. Neither game is a major mismatch, so each could go either way.

The San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers are all capable of making Super Bowl runs, and that competitiveness should make for an enjoyable day of football.

The answers to these three questions will likely serve as some of the biggest talking points to come from the games.


Can Lightning Strike Twice for the San Diego Chargers?

Dec 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers linebackers Manti Te'o and Thomas Keiser (90) celebrate after the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Chargers won 27-20.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODA
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos have only lost to one team at home all season: the Chargers.

A win in Week 15 in Denver came right in the middle of San Diego's second-half surge. It was the catalyst of that late run to help the team get into the playoffs.

Some might be wondering whether the underdog can do it again. Winning in Denver is never easy, and doing it twice in the same season is almost impossible given the strength of the Broncos.

However, head coach Mike McCoy isn't the kind of guy who lets his players go into a game thinking all has already been lost. Ron McBride, who coached McCoy at the University of Utah, spoke glowingly of his former player's attitude, per's Eric D. Williams:

"That's his whole thing -- he's intelligent," McBride said. "He doesn't get rattled. He's confident. He knows what to do. Pressure doesn't bother him. He's the same way coaching. He doesn't get rattled. He has the same demeanor throughout the game."

That kind of perspective is bound to run off on the players and could provide the necessary spark to ignite the Chargers.


Peyton Manning Won't Suffer Another Early Playoff Exit, Will He?

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos emerges from the tunnel during player introductions before a game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on December 12, 2013 in Denver, C
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but he'll almost certainly never get past his postseason foibles.

There's no getting around his 9-11 record in the postseason. While he can't win the Super Bowl every year, a QB of his caliber should at least have a .500 clip in the playoffs.'s David Fleming looked at Manning's numbers during his team's eight one-and-done playoff exits and came to the conclusion that No. 18 deserves plenty of blame, despite whatever struggles his defenses had:

Yes, poor play by the defense was a factor in a lot of these games and several times Manning put his team in a position to win only to lose because of a missed field goal or a fluke play. But, for the most part, the more you dig the worse it gets. A perfect example of how we tend to re-write history in Manning's favor is the Ravens game from a year ago. Most of us tend to blame the Broncos' sleepwalking defense for giving up a 70-yard pass to send the game to overtime. Now maybe it's all the fantasy wins he has given us, or all those adorable against-type commercials, but it was Manning's interception in the second OT that set up the winning field goal. Or had you forgotten?


Manning has twice as many one-and-dones as any other quarterback in the Super Bowl era. Joe Montana has four in 11 trips. Manning's closest contemporary, Tom Brady, has played in four more playoff games than Manning and has gone one-and-done only two times in 10 trips.

It's a troubling narrative for Manning, and one that won't be helped at all should the Broncos lay another egg in the divisional round and end up getting bounced early. He would only add fuel to the fire when it comes to all of the criticism surrounding his playoff record.


Does Cam Newton Silence the Doubters?

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 15:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts on the bench during their game against the New York Jets at Bank of America Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When is Cam Newton gonna win something? I mean besides a Heisman Trophy and national championships at both the FBS and junior college levels. Also, those victories over the 49ers, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots don't count either.

It's quite funny how some are acting as if Newton is some sort of neophyte who's never once faced adversity or big-game situations at any time throughout his playing career.

While he doesn't have a wealth of playoff experience, the third-year star is mentally equipped to handle the pressure that comes with postseason football.

To his credit, Newton isn't content with everything he has done up to this point, per Newsday's Tom Rock:

"I feel as if I haven't achieved anything worth mentioning -- yet," Newton said this past week. "Everyone talks about the great season that myself and others have had, but we all come to each other and say, 'There's nothing worth mentioning unless we have something that we can all share with each other for years and years to come.' Those things that I really want, that everyone has set forth for this season, are all in reach."

Newton has made nice strides in 2013. His completion percentage (61.7 percent), touchdowns (24) and quarterback rating (88.8) are all the highest of his career. All this despite the Panthers having a less-than-stellar core of wide receivers.

Beating San Francisco for the second time this season would help Newton bolster his NFL resume and take the necessary steps toward becoming an elite quarterback.